Friday, April 2, 2021

The One Itty-Bitty, Teeny-Weeny Problem with the Plan to Expand Medicare

From Merrill Matthews writing at The Hill:  

It will be very expensive.

All workers have deducted from their paychecks a 2.9 percent Medicare payroll tax - split equally between the employer and employee. But those funds only pay for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital expenses. 

Retirees must pay out of their own pockets Part B and Part D premiums - which cover physicians' fees and prescription drug costs, respectively. But those premiums cover only about 25 percent of the cost of the programs. Taxpayers foot the other 75 percent.

And those costs add up quickly. 

Eugene Steuerle and Erald Kolasi of the Urban Institute track the average amount of money workers at various income levels pay into Social Security and Medicare and how much they can expect on average to receive in benefits. 

A male worker who made the median income his entire working career and retired at age 65 in 2020 can expect to receive from Social Security just about what he paid in. However, while he paid $81,000 in Medicare (Part A) payroll taxes, he is likely to receive $240,000 (net of premiums) in lifetime Medicare benefits. 

Lowering the enrollment age to 60 adds perhaps another $25,000 to $30,000 to that deficit.

And that's just for a single person. Consider a married couple with only one low-wage earner. That worker retiring at age 65 in 2020 paid about $36,000 in Medicare taxes, which qualifies both of them to participate in Medicare. But the couple can expect to receive about $522,000 in Medicare benefits.